On the day of Fonta Flora Brewery’s eighth anniversary party in 2021, then-taproom manager Shea Ward was driving to the brewery’s Whippoorwill Farm location in the wooded hills of western North Carolina when a small, furry shape darted in front of her car. She hit the brakes, then ran to rescue the small, gray-and-black-striped kitten huddled scared in the middle of the road. She carried him back to her car and took him with her to the party.
“It was our anniversary party, but we also got a cat,” jokes Brit Josa, head of brand at Fonta Flora. “We didn’t know how old he was, but he just kept making biscuits on people’s laps, so we named him Billy Biscuits.”
Billy took to farm life with enthusiasm, roaming the fields and woods around the brewery and making fast friends with the brewery’s two other resident felines, Whip and Willy. The crumbling stone outbuildings and tall grass of this nearly century-old former dairy farm provided a playground for the trio of curious cats, who quickly became part of the brewery family.
Anyone who has ever lived on a farm knows that death is an unavoidable part of existence, even for the animals we love. After returning from a short Christmas break at the end of 2022, Boera and Josa couldn’t find Billy anywhere. It wasn’t unusual for the rambunctious cat to go exploring for a day or two, but he didn’t return, and they found out from the farmer across the street that Billy had been found dead. He died much the way he was first rescued — crossing the mountain road in front of the brewery — but this time, the car didn’t stop.
Fonta Flora shared the heartbreaking story on its Instagram account, penning a touching tribute to this cat that had become beloved by brewery staff and patrons alike. It was a testament not only to the verve a cat can bring to a brewery’s daily life, but the role it can play in telling the brewery’s story — serving as a four-legged ambassador for the business on social media. Billy is sadly gone, but the world of brewery cats continues to thrive.
Cats on Tap was founded in 2013 by Nicholas and Caroline Campion, who were inspired to start their Beer Cats Instagram and Twitter accounts — now with tens of thousands of followers each — and the eponymous #beercats hashtag when their own cat, Rosie, photobombed one of their Untappd check-in photos. The Campions next launched @thebrewerycats on Instagram, an account that celebrates felines that bring joy to taprooms and production spaces.
Cats living in brewing spaces is nothing new. Brewing requires grain, grain draws rodents, and cats are nature’s most enthusiastic rodent control solution. Throughout history, cats have been common sights around breweries and distilleries, both commercial and domestic. While many of today’s brewery cats were ostensibly “hired” for this purpose, most of the sources interviewed for this story admitted “mouser” is mostly an honorary title for their resident felines.
“He was a pretty efficient mouser when he was young, but he’s gotten pretty lazy about it,” says Colin Vent, head brewer at Seventh Son Brewing in Columbus, Ohio, about their cat, Horatio, who has lived at the brewery since 2014. Despite perhaps not pulling their weight in the pest control department, brewery cats definitely help out with marketing, serving as social media models and taproom entertainers. Some cats were born for the limelight.
At Strum Brewing in Ontario, Calif., Nugget the brewery cat glad-hands (glad-paws?) the regulars in search of treats.
“She’s the main entertainer at the tasting room,” says co-owner Anna Alquitela. “She high-fives, fist-bumps, and lies down. If new customers come in, that’s her favorite time to do tricks because she’ll get a treat.”
This diva demands adoration however, and Alquitela explains that if you make Nugget do a trick three times in a row and don’t get her a treat, the beautiful Russian Blue will swipe at you. Nugget has her own Instagram and TikTok accounts, both with well over 50,000 followers (Strum’s own Instagram account has less than a tenth of that). This imbalance isn’t unique. When Redemption Rock Brewing in Worcester, Mass., responded to a Twitter query about brewery cats, they told the plain truth: “Our cat Jimmy might be more well-known than us.” Despite Jimmy (that’s Jimothy J. Fuggle to you) proving popular online, he’s a bit of a curmudgeon in person. It only adds to his mystique.
“When we were looking for a cat, someone told us about him and said, ‘He’s not particularly friendly and he likes to kill things.’ We were like, ‘All right, that sounds like a good brewery cat,” says CEO Dani Babineau, who has the job of corralling Jimmy for his veterinarian visits. “It’s usually very dramatic and not very fun.”
Jimmy’s unique personality led Babineau to start an Instagram account for him, and despite (or perhaps because of) his crankiness, he’s become a draw in the taproom. Children often color pictures of him, and leading up to Valentine’s Day the brewery encourages fans to write poems and create drawings as part of “Valentines for Jimmy,” which get hung in the taproom.
At Seventh Son, Horatio has lent his likeness to a popular line of merchandise, from T-shirts to hats to stickers. He even has a beer named after him — Assistant Manager Golden Ale plays on the joke that Horatio basically runs the taproom. Vent’s wife rescued the cat one day on the way to work, and with nowhere to keep him, he took Horatio with him to the brewery on a day he needed to lead a tour.
“He just laid around and made the tour difficult because everyone was paying more attention to him than to what I was saying,” jokes Vent.
Many years have passed since that Saturday afternoon in 2014, and Horatio has become as much a part of the taproom as any other employee.
“I think Horatio has definitely become part of our personality as a brewery,” says Vent. “We’re like the cat moms of the beer scene here in town.”
Before Billy Biscuits’ untimely passing, he was a rambunctious explorer, following his own path with eagerness and curiosity. He was an apt mascot for a brewery that has often championed ingredients found off the beaten path, such as beets, dandelions, and other foraged botanicals. When he would return from his days of roaming, he’d make his presence known immediately.
“When he would come back to the farm and enter the building, he would literally scream at everyone that he was back,” recalls Boera.
“Just nonstop,” adds Josa with a laugh. “He would just be yelling at you, like ‘Hi!’ Todd would yell back, and they’d have a whole conversation.”
Despite the sadness of Billy’s passing, Josa and Boera believe having cats on the farm and in the taproom allows for beautiful connections, and their thoughts get to the heart of what makes brewery cats so endearing.
“I think it really triggers some dopamine, and people are just really stoked to see the cats,” says Boera. “I mean, that’s why people have pets. It really provides this sense of joy.”
The article For These Felines, Breweries Make the Purrfect Home appeared first on VinePair.